2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Albert Camus

We have been blessed in so many ways these past few months.  I officially began working with Royal Caribbean and found myself surrounded with even more amazing people.  We are finally beginning to feel as though things are starting to slowly come together.  Hubby is still searching for employment, but with my working, it eases so much of the burden and helps to alleviate the stress of having nothing.  It feels so wonderful to finally be back working in an office and interacting with people again.

Malinda and I looking pretty for our work pictures.

Malinda and I looking pretty for our work pictures.

One of the many blessings Royal Caribbean has given to us is our dearest friend Malinda.  During our first week of training, I was blessed to be able to become friends with this wonderful woman.  The first weekend, she opened her home to hubby and I saying she had an extra room.  We were so overjoyed at the prospect to be able to sleep in a bed and take a  hot shower without being timed or have anyone else be in the bathroom with us.  During the weekend, she offered to allow us to rent the room to us, giving us the opportunity to finally be out from living in the van and also with me working, the chance to save up for a place for our own.

Fall Bench

The saying that God has a path set for you is very true.  If someone had told us a year ago that we would be living in Oregon and I would be working at Royal Caribbean, let alone that we would spend over four and a half months living in our van, we would have told that person they were insane.  We would have balked at the idea of stepping so far outside of our comfort zone and moving so far from our family and friends.  But we would never have grown as much as we have done in the past four and a half months.  We would never have met some of the amazing people who have adopted us and have shown us what it means to be a true Christian.

Days are beginning to get colder and shorter and with it the memories of autumn in Michigan come back.  The smell of the leaves after a rainfall. The crisp feeling of the morning followed by the warmth of the Indian Summer.  The stillness that surrounds you when walking amongst the bright autumn colors, a stillness and peacefulness that can only be brought on by the serenity of the beauty surrounding you.

Fall Tree

Autumn has definitely arrived here in Springfield, Oregon as well.  But it is a different sort of peace and beauty that surrounds us here.  We are still blessed with the changing of the leaves as they turn into the bright reds, oranges, and yellows.  There is even still that smell that follows a fall rain.  But beyond the bright autumn colors is the deep forest green of the pine trees that cover the Coburg Hills.  And each dawn greets us with low lying clouds covering the mountains giving an almost ethereal feeling as the clouds begin to lift as the sun slowly rises.  For the first time in a while, I have been craving time to work with my pastels.  So much beauty surrounds me, my soul is screaming out for expression.

Springfield moringing

But with the autumn colors comes the rain that the Pacific Northwest is so well known for.  It’s a different type of wet, almost a bone-chilling wet that seeps deep within.  It’s a dampness that lingers until you are so chilled inside you feel as though you will never be warm again.  We were used to this with the snow, but in the Pacific Northwest, it is the rain.  At least we are out of the van now.  We are no longer facing the elements living in the van.  To our beloved friend Malinda who has welcomed into her family, we will be forever grateful. 

Coffee time!! Coffee!! Coffee!! Coffee!! Cappuccino!! Java!! Yes!!!

So…if Ann Arbor, Michigan and Ferndale, Michigan got together and had a baby it would be Eugene, Oregon. Complete with its Big 10 University of Oregon (go Ducks!), and the vast amount of local shops surrounding the downtown area that cater to every type of person (there is even a store called “Addictive Behaviors” that specializes in all things Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and other role playing card games, complete with accessories and tournaments!!)…they also are known for their vast amount of craft beers and ciders and COFFEE!!! Living in the Pacific Northwest, there is no shortage for coffee here. People take this VERY seriously. While in Michigan you could find the local ice cream stands everywhere; in parts of Louisiana, you could find daiquiri stands (drive-thru mind you) frequently on corners; in Tennessee and Georgia, it was BBQ…but here in Oregon, it’s coffee stands. And most of them offer their own “craft” coffee.

Of course there is the random Starbucks here and there, but we have found a place that puts Starbucks to shame when it comes to their coffee. Not only do they provide a much better product, but they are priced at a much better price too. We have both fallen in love with Dutch Bros. They don’t offer just “plain coffee”, everything is made with espresso. Their basic “coffee” is the Americano which is the espresso mixed with water. Angels were singing the first time we tasted this. This is a treat that we try to enjoy when we are able to. And like some of the other local coffee stands (although this is a chain of stands), you cannot find their products in a grocery store. Another cool fact about them…they call their fans the “Dutch Mafia”. Ha!

We've joined the

We’ve joined the “Dutch Mafia” :o)

Another thing we have noticed here in the Pacific Northwest, is that they love their caffeine. Almost every gas station or grocery store we have visited that offers the ability to purchase single cups of coffee offer a choice of “EXTREME CAFFEINE”. Please let me explain how this works…living here has taught us a few things. 1) People tend to move at a slower pace here than they do in the east, it’s almost as though they take the time to savor things during their day. 2) People here are A LOT happier here. Very rarely do we encounter someone without a smile. 3) VERY RARELY do we encounter someone who ISN’T drinking coffee. My hypothesis is that the people living out here use the “extreme caffeine” to stay happy and smile. They also use this generally first thing in the morning to start their day and to give them that initial “boost” so they can smile and tolerate the idiots that make them smack their forehead and wonder how many times they were dropped as a child. Other places use alcohol to deal with them…Oregon (and most likely Washington) uses coffee…and most likely soon to be marijuana (but that’s a WHOLE different story for later).

But not to be out-done by the local craft coffees, the craft beers and ciders are also vast…and they have a special thing too. We were surprised when we went into the local Fred Meyers (think of Kroger, Meijer’s, Kohl’s, Gardner White, and Kay Jewelers having a child…it would be this store…OMG!!! LOVE IT!!! But that’s a different story…) and we found a section over by the wines and beers where they have a selection of craft beers and ciders ON TAP!!! They actually will sell you a growler and then fill it with your choice of beer or cider. You have your choice of a plain or a fancy (like a University of Oregon) growler and then whatever they have available on tap. Your price would be determined by the growler and the beverage. But since the growlers are re-usable, you just need to wash it and bring it back and only pay for the alcohol. WHAT?!?!?!?! I know of several people in Michigan who angels would be singing when they saw this. They also have this available at the liquor stores. As I’ve been hearing lately…”What a country??”

The Daily Menu

The Daily Menu

The actual taps. You know they have to post that sign there because there are those people who would

The actual taps. You know they have to post that sign there because there are those people who would “self serve”. LOL

As for us…I’d like to say that things have been quiet…but not really. It hasn’t been screaming, but it sure hasn’t been dull either. We went to spend some time at the coast this past weekend. It was a nice reprieve from Eugene. I didn’t get to see the Pacific only because of my mobility issues, but hubby did and he was so excited. All he could talk about was finally being able to put his feet in the ocean. The day we went to the actual coast, as we were driving to the beach, we noticed some low-lying clouds coming in along the harbor. It was so beautiful to watch them slowly come in. But after he had climbed over the sand dunes to get to the beach, the clouds became a thick, grayish, fog. The water in the harbor was dark and choppy and soon the fog was so thick I couldn’t even see the town of Florence on the other side of the water. It felt as though it was a scene directly from a thriller movie, complete with the fog horn sounding in the distance. But as I drove closer to the mainland, the fog lifted and the night sky became clear. It was just so cool!! Each night we were out there, the nights were so dark and clear that I could see the stars perfectly.

The early fog rolling into Florence over the harbor.

The early fog rolling into Florence over the harbor.

Hubby was so excited about being able to put his feet in the ocean. He's working on a way for me to get down there next so I can join him.

Hubby was so excited about being able to put his feet in the ocean. He’s working on a way for me to get down there next so I can join him.

The choppy waves as the fog was starting to roll in.

The choppy waves as the fog was starting to roll in.

The Pacific Ocean with the fog and the water current getting stronger.

The Pacific Ocean with the fog and the water current getting stronger.

I was telling my dad today that while we were driving the other day, I was looking at the mountains in the distance and I remarked that I don’t think I will ever be able to get used to having the mountains as a backdrop to my life here. I don’t think hubby will either. We have found a sense of peace out here that we weren’t able to find in Michigan. We are definitely struggling…but name one traveler (which is basically what we are at the moment, only we have decided to remain in Eugene) who isn’t. We have our moments where we want to throw things…again, name someone who hasn’t; but ultimately we love each other at the end of the day. At the end of the day we still find ways to laugh and smile. Our friend Kimmie and my dad told us before we left that this journey was going to teach us more about ourselves, each other, and give us a chance to grow personally, spiritually, and as a couple. They were both right. Who would have thought that what we needed was to basically go off of the grid (so to speak) to learn so much?? Without television, limited computer use, and limited internet, we’ve found ways to entertain ourselves and each other (okay, you….mind out of the gutter there!!!). We’ve found out how strong we are as individuals and as a couple. When one is struggling, the other picks up the slack and finds ways to make the other smile. We constantly tease the other about this or that…he especially likes to tease me about my love for furr-babies; but I know that he is trying to find a way for me to get my furr-baby soon.

Prayers for today…prayers for tomorrow…prayers for knowledge and strength…

From our hearts to yours…

I am Groot

You really have to have a sense of humor when you’re living in a van in Eugene, Oregon. Aside from all of the different cast of characters you encounter (wacky, sane, or otherwise)…days can be difficult and dull at times. You have to find ways to smile and laugh with each other.

Have you seen the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy”?? One of our favorite characters is Groot. What we love about him is his innocence and also his ability to express himself even though he can only say, “I am Groot.” It proves that it all comes down to how you say something. Something I’m slowly learning myself (shhh…don’t tell the hubby).

It gets trying and sometimes tense when you are limited on where you can go or do. There are times we seem to be at each other’s throats…but then one of us will say something crazy or silly and the other will smile and laugh. We have to do that. We have to find ways to keep smiling. Even though we are going through this, we are facing this challenge together. And if we are fighting each other…we will both lose.

Before we left, one of our dearest friends took us to go see “Inside Out” by Disney Pixar. Like all Pixar movies, there’s a short before the feature film. The one for this movie was called “Lava.” From the moment it started we loved it. It became both of our favorite Pixar Short. Even now, we still sing the song to each other. What couple needs a “song” when they can have a Pixar Short??

We still tease each other. He teases me about my short arms. He calls them my “T-Rex arms” from “Meet the Robinsons”, another of my favorite Disney movies. I tease him because he’s constantly a lighter thief and my Paco because he loves to burrow under his blanket and curl up in a ball at night. It’s all in jest and love.

We’ve decided to make our own Camp Serenity for now. We loved being with our extended family, but we found a place that’s quiet and out of the way. Plus it’s darker, so we can see more stars. Home is where your heart is, right??

We still start our days at St. Vinnie’s, and our cast of characters keeps growing. We haven’t been able to really sit and talk with some of them to hear their stories, but I’m looking forward to hearing more about them.

One thing I’ve noticed among the homeless here is their love of animals. Many of them have dogs to keep them company. One of the many services offered by St. Vinnie’s is they will provide not just pet food and sometimes shampoo, but also once a month they have a vet and groomer on site that does “Pro Bone-O” (yup, that’s how it’s spelled) services. It’s nice to know that they aren’t just looking out for us humans, but also our furry babies as well. In fact, St. Vinnie’s has a live-in mascot. His name is 99 and he’s an adult grey tabby cat. Very ornery, and like many of the people there, he’s a little standoffish to others. He lets you know when he wants attention (like any other cat I’ve met)…and everyone there is eager to please. But like many of those who come to St. Vinnie’s, beneath his tough exterior, he’s a big softy and has a good heart. I miss having fur babies to snuggle with…but I have faith I’ll be able to have one soon.

We are still so in awe of being able to see the majestic beauty of the mountains around us. I doubt either of that will tire of this view any time soon. We’ve found that no matter what is going on, being blessed by having all of this wondrous nature around us is extremely calming. One day we plan to spend some time actually camping in the woods…one day…

Sage, Stars, and Serenity

We have all heard about the “Three R’s” to relaxation: Rest, Relaxation, and Rejuvenation. But how many of you have heard of the “Three S’s”, Sage, Stars, and Serenity?? Nothing beats sitting outside on a peaceful night, watching the starry sky, with the smell of sage to give you serenity. One could get spoiled out here with all of this readily available.

One of the many joys we have discovered here is the ability to see the stars no matter where you are. They are so much brighter here in Eugene than where we were in Michigan. Even with the glow of city lights, the night sky still twinkles away.

We have found sanctuary at last. The other night we visited our friend Katherine and her family out where they camp. It’s just a bit further down from where we had been staying, but this is much more private and the sky is even brighter. It’s so peaceful and quiet there. There were no arguments or having to deal with the characters we used to have around. While we were there, they invited us to stay and camp with them. Deciding to move and stay where they are at has brought us so much more serenity to our hearts and minds. We are starting to feel as though are with family instead of friends. We have added to our “extended” family. One day we will unite them all in one place…but that will have to wait for now.

Tonight, as I sit under the dark sky, I am thankful for all of the blessings of the past few days. I have found my peace being able to sit under the stars at night. These past few days since we have moved, I have a been ending my days by sitting outside underneath the night sky, praying and writing. I get to watch the sun set and see the stars come out every evening. That is something I didn’t feel comfortable doing where we used to stay. So much chaos there, the only time I would find my peace would be very late at night. Here I have that even during the day. No drama. No fights. No chaos. Just peace and quiet.

The first night we stayed, as I was writing, I was surrounded with the wonderful aroma of sage. Sage has always brought the feeling cleansing, just as Lavender triggers the emotion of relaxation and meditation. That scent was just what was needed to help empty the mind of all of the ceaseless chaos that had been surrounding our lives lately.

We’ve been keeping up with all of the wildfires that have been raging from central Oregon into Washingon State. The past few days, the air had been thick with smoke as it has traveled down toward us. It has become so thick that the mountains that used to great us at every turn have been blocked out. Driving at night in some areas, it is so thick, it’s reminiscent of early morning fogs. From what we have learned, the fire has grown to over 120,000 acres so far. We know that more and more firefighters and military help has been coming in from across the globe. We do know that they have brought in the “big guns” and are currently using water tankers to release over 3500 gallons of water each over the flames. Every night we pray for the men and women who are battling the fires, as well as for the families who have been displaced because of them.

The nights are starting to get cooler now. We can feel fall slowly approaching even though during the day it can still get into the mid-80’s. The rains haven’t started yet…and we sorely need them in the Pacific Northwest with all of the wildfires happening. While I’m sure I will miss the Autumns in Michigan, I’m anxious to see how beautiful the trees become here and how the sky changes as the weather begins to get colder.

God has a way of making His plans known. Sometimes it’s that voice deep inside telling you which one to choose. Sometimes it’s as if He smacks you up the side of the head as you’re either listening or reading a passage from the Bible. And sometimes it’s just that sense of peace that comes over you as you make the life changing decision. It’s amazing to sit here at night, watching the stars and pondering how God placed each and every one of them into existence. He knew where each one needed to be to create that perfect balance. So often we struggle in our own lives in search of that perfect balance. Some believe that money and power will fix everything. That with money and power in their lives, they can achieve the balance they so desperately crave. There are others who cling to their relationships…constantly searching for their “other half” believing that special person will fill the gap in their heart. I believe we were given that urge for completion and balance by God because He wanted us to search. He wanted us to look inside ourselves and find the answer for our quest. He will never impose His will on our decisions, but will help us when we ask. Sometimes we listen, many times we don’t. Maybe that is why so many of us still wonder searching for our own balance and serenity. Where do you look??

Who needs TV?? When you have the live here??

Wow!! Just…wow!!! Between the hippie buses, tweekers, and the parking lot arguments…who needs TV???

So, apparently, Eugene is the hippie capital of the world. Not just the country, but the world. And not just the young people trying re-enact the “Age of Aquarius”, there are many of the originals still around trying stay young. Every bus we see has been decorated in different ways and colors. One we saw was done with a fish theme. Another was more colorful, but looked as though they added a top level to part of it. We’ve even seen the RAGE bus here in Eugene. 

The tweekers bring another form of entertainment to watch. Having never been around them myself, it’s interesting to see them and hear their stories. Some of the ones we’ve met are former users and are trying to make their lives better, trying to rebuild what they had lost. Some of them are long time homeless and just prefer to “play the system” which hinders so many who are in need of the system. 

And adding to our nightly entertainment has been the parking lot arguments. Whether it’s between one drunk and her “friend” or the couple that “drinks together” living in the van…nights are never dull. We are just flies on the wall. The other day we watched as one guy screamed at a lady because they had stolen an air mattress from the local Walmart and were trying to return it without a receipt. Guess they didn’t see that they could only exchange those and not return them (oh, the lovely people of Walmart). One lady, who seems to be a permanent resident of the parking lot, stays drunk and is always looking to others to help her. She’s very disturbing to be around and we try to stay away from her as much as possible. 

I’m starting to feel as though I need to start carrying “Stupid” signs to pass out to the stupid people…would save so much trouble for others because then they would just understand. Or maybe signs that say “I lost all of my brain cells from (alcohol, meth, whatever)”. Maybe that will help others who are trying to carry on conversations with them, or maybe try to walk away (or run depending on the person and conversation) while the person is just talking constantly in circles. We speak fluently in circles, and we have difficulty keeping up with some of them. 

There is definitely a wide cast of characters here amongst us. Our favorite so far is our friend “Dr.” Ray. Talking with him is like having a conversation with a historian/medical doctor/hippie/genius every day. His scathing wit with just enough of a touch of insanity to make our conversations not just enjoyable, but hilarious at times. He is the “neighborhood watch” and makes sure no one gets hurt, everyone “plays by the rules”, and runs off those who would draw the unwanted negative attention. He’s an amazing ally to have on your side, with a heart of gold, even though he doesn’t reveal it too often to many people. He has become one of a few friends we look forward to seeing and interacting with every day. 

Been volunteering in Eugene while we’ve been working to find employment. It’s been fulfilling to be able to give back even while we have so little to give. I’ve been working in the laundry room and hubby has been helping clean the main dining room in the afternoons when he is able. Working the the laundry room, I have met many more interesting characters. But none as interesting as our friend Josh. He is another volunteer in the laundry room and I throughly enjoy working with him. Every time we work together, he always makes me laugh. He is a man with a strong heart and an old soul. He is of a rare breed of men who will look women in the eye when talking to them and will actually listen to them and be a shoulder to cry on. He gives respect, but he doesn’t take any crap either. He will be the first to tell someone if they are out of line or if they need to leave. His story is a long one…one I’m slowly getting. He’s another, what I call, “iceberg”…what people see is only 10%…because that is all that shows above the surface. 

Another, old and kindred soul we have met is Katherine. Her and her family has been through so much. She is fighting to keep her family together while working to build something better for them. She is another like me…another who feels deeply and like me, it shows. Her story is also a long one…another I am still collecting. She and her family are one of many who are striving to make things better. 

God has a plan…He has a purpose. We don’t know what it is yet. Then again, I don’t think anyone actually does until that light bulb goes off. We are all placed in situations because we need to learn from them. Sometimes it’s to learn about others. Other times it to learn about ourselves. We don’t want to be in the van anymore. We long to be in a place with a bed and a fridge…hopefully a place to call our own, or even another motel room…but we want to stop sleeping in the van. We’re working to change that…but we’re learning as we go along. We’re learning about what we can and can’t do now, learning about ourselves, and learning about what we want to do. This is why we collect the stories we do. With each story we take a part of that person with us and we learn from them. 

We once read that the people in Portland live at least three lives; that Portland is becoming the home to the most cracked of crackpots and misfits among misfits. While I will have to take Katherine Dunn, author of “Geek Love” and of the Introduction to “Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk In Portland, Oregon” by Chuck Palahniuk, on her word about Portland; I would have to say the same is for here in Eugene. Every person we have met and have heard their stories has had at least three identities. Mother, wife, and drug user. Veteran, homeless, and alcoholic. Spouse, parent, and abuse victim. Every one with their own story to be heard. 

Eugene is the had become the home to the broken and botched of all the races here. As though if we were all tossed onto the Island of Misfit Toys, heaped onto one large pile with only each other for support. We are the broken dolls that time forgot, left in the world that has moved on without us. But some of us have found a quiet strength and kinship. And together, we share our joys, pains, triumphs, challenges…together with the help of organizations like FISH, St. Vincent De Paul, and Catholic Community Services; we are able to slowly start piecing our shattered lives back together. 

Welcome to the Land of Misfits and Crackpots. Where the weak find strength and the powerless find faith. 

From Umpqua to Bl-Eugene with Love…

It was time to move on. Time to look forward and find a better place for options. We’ve been blessed with the people we have encountered and the stories we have heard. We have been blessed by those who have helped us along the way with food, gas, and kind words when we needed them. But we had come to realize our opportunities in the Umpqua were very small and that it was time to head north.

Eugene is the Mecca for hippies, young and old alike. With the University of Oregon at its center, Eugene is a large gem surrounded by the majestic mountains of Oregon. It has more opportunities to offer for those like us just getting a fresh start and needing some assistance in the beginning; as well as aiding those who have fallen to the wayside and are in need of the support as they rebuild. We haven’t been able to explore our new home yet; but we are definitely looking forward to that adventure. But even still, we have met some people and have added some stories to our collection. Tonight we fell in love with the other lost souls of Eugene…the four legged kind. We interacted with some of the feral kitties in the parking lot around us and shared what little we could with them. One lady we met who has been coming to feed them every night says there are over a hundred cats in the neighboring field. She’s been coming every night with food in hopes of earning their friendship so she can take them and help find their forever homes. She says so many people just dump them off there and they are slowly starving to death. My heart breaks as I know we both miss our fur babies and are anxious to be able to have one again.

The stories we hear and “collect” stay with us. These are the people we will remember later as time goes on. These are the stories that are often left untold and fade away after the person is gone. We have learned so much not just about these amazingly strong and wonderful people, but we have learned from them. It is said that God places us where He knows we need to be. Where He knows we either need to learn, hear, teach, or tell something. Maybe we have been placed here because not only do we need to rely on Him more, but also to hear these stories and collect them. And maybe by us collecting them, we are to continue their stories so that they are remembered and not forgotten. After the flesh is rotted away and the bones have turned to dust, all that remains are the stories. Everyone remembers the people in the spotlight, rarely do they remember the person on the park bench.